It might not even be your fault, but if you find yourself at the head of an embarrassing employee culture, fixing it should be priority one. Here’s why, and how.
You Are Not Alone: Lots of Companies Seem to Have an Embarrassing Employee Culture
It seems as though rarely a week goes by where one company or another is “outed” by their employees regarding employee culture. In some cases, it’s simply the culture that evolved within a company purposefully or by neglect; in others, it occurs when an acquisition or merger forces one culture to change and conform to another. Furthermore, no industry is exempt, as exemplified by this TheStreet.com article titled, 6 Companies with Worse Workplaces than Amazon.
Gallup’s State of the American Workplace reports and related studies have demonstrated the direct link between employee engagement and an employee’s average rating of key workplace elements, most of which reflect company culture. The list of possible causes are endless; however, the consequences of allowing a bad company culture to continue are specific, and serious:
- Outperformed by competitors – as much as 202 percent (dalecarnegie.com)
- Disengage employees neither like nor trust managers and company leaders
- Higher absenteeism – as much as 37 percent higher (Harvard Business Review)
- Higher turnover – as much as 50 percent higher (Harvard Business Review)
- Less safe – as many as 70 percent more safety incidents (gallup.com)
- Lower morale (smallbusiness.chron.com)
- Lower productivity (forbes.com)
- Negative word of mouth from both employees and customers (peoplemetrics.com)
While not necessarily hostile, people who are disengaged because of an embarrassing employee culture tend to merely “show up and kill time, doing the minimum required with little extra effort to go out of their way for customers.” (Gallup.com) The article goes on to describe disengaged workers as less vigilant, more likely to miss work, thinking about their next break and more likely to change jobs when the opportunity presents itself.
5 Things You Can Do to Fix an Embarrassing Employee Culture
1. Put It All on the Table
An honest, open discussion where no topics are off-limits is the only way to effectively address problems within the company culture and create a plan that leads to long-term improvement. Although easier to say than do, dialogue must be frank, direct, and as much as possible done without assigning or assuming blame (although there may be personnel changes as the process continues).
2. Adopt a System – Not a Set of Words
Too many CEO’s draw up a road map but fail to follow it, writing mission statements and lists of values they want to characterize company culture but never get around to actually implementing. Perceived hypocrisy makes it that much worse for employees, who then feel disappointed and dismayed that they were let-down a second time by the organization. It’s also quite possible that the problem cannot be solved without outside help. As Einstein once said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
If you’re serious about fixing an embarrassing company culture, consider hiring a consultant who can help you craft a plan, measure progress and help you hold company leaders and staff accountable. If hiring an outside expert isn’t an option, consider finding a company culture you want to model after and reach out to them for help; after all, imitation is the highest form of flattery!
3. Mandate and Manage Leadership Buy-In
Employee culture won’t change overnight and it won’t change without a 100 percent commitment from everyone in leadership. Managers who roll their eyes or actively work to undermine efforts to improve the workplace for all employees will undo the work more quickly than it can be accomplished.
Ultimately, if leaders aren’t willing to embody the values you want to permeate your company’s culture, and you aren’t willing to make changes to the ranks of leadership based on the extent to which they endorse and actively support efforts to improve organizational culture, you run the risk of failing to deliver on promises to employees and destroying any remaining trust in the process.
4. Embed Culture into Decision Making, Planning, Strategy, Employee Training and Hiring – Everything
Organizational culture is reflected in nearly every aspect of your business, and every aspect of your business, in turn, affects culture. The characteristics you say you want to describe your business won’t show up unless you purposefully use those traits to measure policies, procedures, decision making, plans and strategies, employee training, onboarding and hiring.
5. Rate Perpetuity, Performance, Promotions and Rewards on Culture
What gets measured gets done. You can’t fix an embarrassing employee culture if you aren’t willing to hold everyone accountable. As change is implemented and becomes the standard, make it permanent by basing consequences and rewards on the extent to which employees embrace and demonstrate culture in their day to day work life.
As companies like Zappos and Amazon have demonstrated, the corporate rewards of increased productivity, morale, lower workers comp and absenteeism and the other benefits organizations with engaged employee enjoy make it worth paying the wrong employees to leave if the culture is not the right fit for them (and vice versa). When Amazon decided to adopt Zappos pay-to-quit program (after acquiring the company in 2009), CEO Jeff Bezos said, “In the long run, an employee staying somewhere they don’t want to be isn’t healthy for the employee or the company.”